by Atul Hatwal
John McDonnell might have a history of ranting radicalism, but he offered a different approach in his speech to Labour conference.
The florid attacks on austerity and business were familiar but the policy content wasn’t quite as red in tooth and claw as his previous rhetoric might have suggested.
Talk of paying down the deficit, briefings to the press on signing Osborne’s fiscal charter and new caveats on implementing Peoples Quantitative Easing (also known as printing money) show how sails have been trimmed.
At conference, there’s been some head-scratching. What’s McDonnell doing?
Labour’s shadow chancellor is fermenting a Special Brew version of Milibandism.
Harsher, more pungent and stronger than the beverage offered by Labour’s last leader, but a version, nonetheless.
Ed Miliband clearly didn’t like the idea of cuts to public services, John McDonnell committed to avoiding any cuts altogether.
Ed Miliband spoke in abstract terms about predators and producers, John McDonnell named Starbucks, Amazon, Google and Vodafone.
And Ed Miliband worried about welfare cuts, McDonnell promised there would be none.
However, in common with Milibandism classic, McDonnell’s speech left a trail of questions unanswered.
He talked blithely about using funds from economic growth and crackdowns on tax avoidance and corporate welfare to avoid austerity.
This might sound good in a Labour conference speech and offer up some easy clap lines but Ed Miliband’s position unravelled on the specifics.
John McDonnell is just as vulnerable.
Seema Malhotra, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, went on the Daily Politics with Andrew Neil immediately after the speech and endured a painful dissection of Labour’s missing policy detail.
How would tax avoidance be stopped? How much could be recovered? Which corporate taxes would go up to reduce the deficit? How much deficit reduction would be from these sources?
She tried to respond but the cupboard was bare.
This is why McDonnell is offering a punchier version of Miliband’s economics, not something fundamentally different.
He’s dodging the same questions.
Just like Miliband, McDonnell seems to be worried by the response of the public to higher taxes and borrowing, so he falls back on intangibles like growth and tax avoidance.
And as with Miliband, the Tories will skewer McDonnell on the lack of specifics and confirm public doubts about Labour and economic competence.
The key difference with McDonnell’s Special Brew Milibandism, is that the hangover is going to be that much worse.
Labour will soon be perceived as being even more anti-business and even less trustworthy with the public finances than at the last election.
Welcome to the new politics. Not so different to the old politics.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut